National Archives and Herbert Hoover

by: Matthew Schaefer

It should come as no surprise that Herbert Hoover gave thought to the nature and operation of the National Archives.  When World War I was winding down, Hoover [in addition to work with Wilson at the Paris Treaty talks and overseeing the feeding of Europe] created the Hoover Institution of War, Revolution and Peace on the Stanford campus.  The Hoover Institution was established as an archives to document nothing less than the World War, ongoing revolutions, and the emerging peace being hammered out in Paris.

President Hoover laying the cornerstone for the National Archives building. 02/20/1933
President Hoover laying the cornerstone for the National Archives building. 02/20/1933

While President, Hoover was heartened to see Congress pass legislation funding the creation of the National Archives building.  He was dismayed when funding to staff the nascent National Archives stalled in the Senate in mid-1930.  Prompted by Secretary of Treasury Andrew Mellon, Hoover surveyed heads of executive departments to: recommend someone to serve on a committee to oversee records management, review the nature and volume of records in each department, and plan for transfer of these records to the National Archives building.  Vice President Curtis and Secretaries Wilbur, Stimson, and Hurley dutifully replied.

The National Archives next appeared on Hoover’s radar when dozens of letters reached his office in early 1931 recommending Assistant Librarian of Congress Thomas P. Martin for the post of Archivist of the United States.  These unsolicited letters of recommendation came from a range of sources: editor the Chattanooga News, chair of the Wittenberg [Ohio] College Department of History, the Hispanic American Review, and Harvard University’s Samuel Eliot Morrison.  Martin sent Hoover a hand-written letter on April 9, 1931, stating that he had no interest in the Archivist job, primarily because the position had not yet been funded.

In one of his final acts as President, Hoover spoke at the laying of the cornerstone for the National Archives building on February 20, 1933.  Such rituals are de rigeur for Presidents and usually leave no lasting impression.  Hoover’s remarks, ‘On Providing Living Habituation for Romance of History: Remarks Made at the Laying of the Cornerstone of the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C.,’ have receded almost entirely from historic awareness.  Despite invoking George Washington, the Charters of Freedom, and the expression of the American soul, scant attention was paid to the celebration of ‘this temple of our history.’

In other news February 20, 1933, the House of Representatives approved submitting the 21st Amendment to the states for ratification.  This Amendment would repeal the 18th Amendment prohibiting the sale and distribution of most types of alcohol in America.  Not for the first time, history finishes a distant second to the rising tide of beer in terms of newsworthiness.


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